ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is such a beautifully crafted adventuring mission that surrounds a charming band of mercenaries, as they travel from town to town, on foot or sky ship, prepping for what is likely to be their last tour. And these towns are filled with, and surrounded by, every type of fantasy creature and monster that you could ever wish for: Centaurs, Treants, Owlbears, Direwolves, Ogres, Goblins, Kobolds, Gorgons, Wyverns, Chimeras, Gnolls, Harpies, Daevas/Succubus, Trolls, Cannibals, Dragons, Phoenixes, Gremlins, Giants, Slimes, Nymphs, Blood Eaters/Vampires, Moonies, Rakshas, Shifters, Golems, Gargoyles, Demons, Death Knights, Minotaurs, Cyclops, and so much more.
This mercenary band, Saga, was once the greatest band in all of the five kingdoms of Grandual, but after almost twenty years of no longer adventuring, the members find themselves a little older, much slower, and, for the sake of kindness, their bodies a lot softer.
Yet, even though they are older, slower, and softer, they all did their fair share of leveling up and did an even bigger share of killing dangerous monsters in their pasts. Not only do they have a reputation that precedes them, they also have some pretty legendary weapons.
➽ Clay Cooper/Slowhand, who wields Blackheart – a wooden shield made from a very famous battle with a Treant. Clay is working on the Watch, and is happy with his simple life as a husband and father.
➽ Gabriel/Golden Gabe, who wields Vellichor – a sword that is much more powerful than humanly imaginable. Gabe hasn’t made the best choices in life, but now is in the dire need for help.
➽ Matrick/Matty Skulldrummer, who dual wields Roxy and Grace – now royal daggers. Matrick is now a King and in a very unhappy and unfaithful marriage.
➽ Arcandius Moog, who carries a Bag of Holding – filled with a vast array of weapons, and a hat that conjures refreshments on a whim. Moog is living in a wizard tower, trying to find a cure to a deadly disease.
➽ Ganelon, who wields Syrinx – a massive battle axe made from the stuff of nightmares. Ganelon has spent the last nineteen-years alone in captivity.
➽ Larkspur/Sabbatha, who wields Umbra – a scythe acquired from killing a very deadly foe. I have played a warlock in World of Warcraft for over ten years; there was no way that this Daevas/Succubus wasn’t going to be my favorite character. I loved that she was a bounty hunter, and I loved her path to redemption then deception.
“As individuals they were each of them fallible, discordant as notes without harmony. But as a band they were something more, something perfect in its own intangible way.”
The important mission that is throwing Saga back into the spotlight, and forcing them out of retirement, is that Golden Gabe’s daughter, Rosie, is trapped deep inside the Heartwyld, in the ruins of Castia, with four-thousand other people. Everyone in Saga knows that this could very well be a suicide mission, but all the members have their different reasons, or lack thereof, for agreeing to help Gabe on this impossible tour.
“But I need you to believe in one more story, Rose.” If Gabe’s voice had been stone before, now it was harder, colder, the mask of ice on a mountain’s wind-scarred face. “I am coming to Castia,” he said. “I am going to save you.”
The Heartwyld is a very dangerous place, filled with many of the creatures I listed above, but in the Heartwyld people can also contract a body eating disease called “the rot” that eats you away very slowly, eventually killing you. It is noncontagious, but easily picked up when an individual spends too much time in the forests of Heartwyld, and is truly the biggest fear in Grandual.
The mercenary bands of today aren’t what they were in Saga’s day. No one wants to get the rot, but everyone wants to be a hero. So instead of venturing into the forests to kill dangerous monsters, like Saga did back in their day, people in the cities just breed monsters and the bands fight them in the arena to prove their worth and to claim their fame.
“Life was funny, and fickle, and often cruel. Sometimes the unworthy went on living, while those who deserved better were lost.”
And what would this story be without a good villain? Lastleaf, a Druin (which is kind of like a bunny person and makes my heart so happy), is a villain that will also make you feel a great deal of empathy. He is the Master of the Heartwyld Horde, and he wants the destruction that is taking place in Castia to spread, and to enter all the five kingdoms so he can rule, but also because the creatures in Grandual are always deemed monsters and treated inhumanely. I mean, the biggest form of entertainment is to force these monsters, which are being bred in captivity, to fight in arenas against these bands just looking for fame.
This story will make you self reflect and think about what your definition of evil is. Is it the “bad guys” that are performing evil acts to free their people from the terrible treatment they are receiving, or is it the “good guys” doing terrible things to creatures they deem inferior and to each other, on the land they stole from the creatures in the first place.
“You’d be surprised how many choices one makes due to the intrinsic nature of self-preservation”
Between the Heartwyld and Lastleaf, Clay and the gang feel rather hopeless about their chances to rescue Rosie throughout the story, but with some good luck, new information, magical portals, great friends, and wonderful new acquaintances, they are able to have one last amazing adventure that will go down in history.
“This moment, is when you step out from the shadow of the past. Today you make your name. Today your legend is born. Come tomorrow, every tale the bards tell will belong to you, because today we save the world!”
This book reads like you’re playing a fresh Dungeons & Dragons campaign, or you’re starting a new character on World of Warcraft, or reading the lore behind a new Magic the Gathering set. There are so many nods at other fantasy stories, too, and I appreciated every smile I was forced to make because of them. This book is an ode to fantasy lovers, readers and gamers alike, and the immersion is nothing short of wonderful and all encompassing.
This book is a fantasy lover’s dream, with the funniest banter, from characters you can’t help but root for and fall in love with. I am so impressed with Nicholas Eames’ debut novel, and I see nothing but amazing things in his future. Also, Moog is everything I’ve ever wanted in a wizard, and I will read any and everything with that little adorable cinnamon roll in it.
Needless to say, my nerdy self absolutely loved and devoured this story. This book is for sure under-hyped and truly is a shining light in today’s new fantasy releases. I recommend this with my whole heart, and hope you, too, give it a try, because it is so very worth it. I unquestionably cannot wait to get my hands on book two.